WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Bob Menendez today entered into the Congressional record the following statement regarding tomorrow’s two year anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladeshi which killed 1,130 and injured 2,500:
“April 24th marks the two year anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse which resulted in the death of over 1,130 Bangladeshi workers and the injury of approximately 2,500 more. To date, this remains the single largest disaster of its kind. Since 2013, many in the governmental, non-governmental, private, and business sectors have pledged their financial resources time and to addressing the numerous issues and problems surrounding the ready-made garment industry. Even though progress has been made, many promises remain unfulfilled especially in providing Bangladeshi workers the rights they deserve.
“As a long-term U.S. ally, I want Bangladesh to be prosperous because only through a growing economy that delivers shared prosperity to its people can stability be ensured.
“The country’s garment industry is now, and will be for the foreseeable future, the engine of economic growth as it accounts for close to 80% of foreign exchange earnings. The United States, which remains the single largest country buyer of Bangladeshi garments, has an important responsibility to ensure that those garments are made in a way that do not put people’s lives at risk and that fairly rewards workers for their labor.
“Domestically, while there has been progress in conducting safety inspections and hiring additional inspectors, much work remains in providing for freedom of association. On this front, I have been very disappointed by the role played by the government of Bangladesh. The record over the past two years shows that the Bangladeshi government has failed to keep promises it made to our Government and to the European Union:
• It has failed to pass a labor law in line with international labor standards and has not promulgated implementing regulations for the law that exists.
• Workers still have no rights to form unions in Export Processing Zones and once again the government is saying it has no power to change regulations because of contractual obligations to companies.
• The Government of Bangladesh has made little progress with regard to the inspection of well over a thousand factories that it agreed to inspect for fire safety.
• The Government of Bangladesh personnel responsible for investigating unfair labor practices are not doing so and some police have refused to accept cases filed by labor organizers who experience violence from management hired thugs. Such anti-union behavior on the part of employers is common throughout many developing countries but in the case of Bangladesh, it is compounded by the government’s actions which actively abet such behavior. For that the Government of Bangladesh must be held responsible.
• There needs to be a clear, consistent and transparent union registration process. While approximately 300 factory-level garment unions have been registered in the last two years, more than 100 unions that filed for registration have been rejected by the government, many for arbitrary or unfair reasons.
“The people of Bangladesh need mechanisms where workers can swiftly get the justice they deserve when their rights are violated. Bangladeshi authorities need to properly investigate, address and, if necessary, penalize employers for unfair labor practices to end the culture of impunity that surrounds employer resistance to legally protected union activity.
“So as you can see, much work remains.
“Until substantial progress is made, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has rightfully decided to keep in place the suspension of Bangladesh’s Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade benefits with the United States. I support this decision.
“The ‘Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’ and the ‘Alliance on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’ are two private sector initiatives made up of American and European retailers which have conducted safety inspections in more than 2,500 factories. As result some factories have adopted new safety practices and have made physical improvements such as the installation of fire doors to make it safer for workers to evacuate when fires occur. These inspections have resulted in the full or partial shutdown of a number of unsafe factories. The private sector has a critical role to play in changing the RMG culture in Bangladesh and I strongly urge both coalitions to focus on how worker’s rights can be improved in the coming years.
“Aside from ensuring that improvements are made to prevent another Rana Plaza, it is critical that full compensation is paid to the victims and their families. As of today, the ‘Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund’ has received roughly $21 million from a variety of donors, including both large global brands and the Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s Fund. While $21 million sounds impressive, the fund is suffering from an approximate $9 million dollar shortfall. Because of this, some victims and their families have only received approximately 70% of the money that they are entitled to. I am happy to hear that Benetton has recently agreed to donate to the Fund. I hope that other companies that had business at Rana Plaza come forward and contribute, or continue contributing, their fair share.
“It is encouraging to see different elements of the international community come together to support the garment factory workers in Bangladesh. Real progress in the RMG sector will require continued vigilance on the part of the international community. Earlier this year, we were once again saddened by the news of yet another tragedy involving the collapse of a building in Bangladesh. On March 12, in the town of Mongla, a cement factory collapsed and tragically killed eight people while injuring approximately 60 others. Whether in a garment factory or cement factory, we must remain vigilant to ensure that workers safety and workers’ rights are top priorities of the U.S. government and international buyers in Bangladesh.”